GCSEs 2021: Regional grading rejected by Ofqual adviser

Grading A levels and GCSEs by regional Covid disruption is ‘impossible’, warns member of Ofqual’s standards committee
25th November 2020, 12:50pm


GCSEs 2021: Regional grading rejected by Ofqual adviser

Coronavirus Gcses 2021: An Ofqual Adviser Has Warned That It Would Be 'completely Impossible' To Provide Regional Grading Of Exams To Take Into Account Covid Disruption

An Ofqual adviser has warned that it would be "completely impossible" to have regional grading for next year's exams to take account of differing levels of Covid disruption.

Professor Robert Coe said it would be a mistake to think that exam grading could redress the inequality faced by students in different parts of the country through the impact of the coronavirus.

A member of the regulator's standards advisory group, he also said he believed holding exams was still the best way of assessing young people's attainment next summer.

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The academic warned about the practical difficulties of regional grading when he was asked about the idea - suggested by Labour - on BBC radio this morning.

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"It is definitely true that disruption has not been equal, although it has been very significant for many pupils and many schools, so [regional grading] looks like an appealing idea at first sight," Prof Coe, director of research at Evidence Based Education, said.

"The question is exactly how are you going to do this? How are you going to decide who has had disruption? Is that on a regional basis?

"Even in those regions where there has been significant disruption, there will be some schools that have had relatively little and certainly some pupils who have been relatively uninterrupted. Are we going to take account of that?

"Are they going to be lumped in with the region? On what basis do we make that decision and then how do we actually do that adjustment?

"People think that an exam grade should tell you something about what a pupil knows or can do or their attainment in a particular subject, for example. 

"This completely throws this out of the window and says, 'Well, we are just going to give a grade which we think reflects somehow what we think you deserve or would have got in an ideal world,' or I am not quite sure what. How do we define that?"

Labour's shadow education secretary, Kate Green, had suggested that GCSE and A-level grades should be set regionally this summer. She said that students in badly hit regions should get the same kind of "special consideration" given to candidates with long-term illness.

But Prof Coe said: "It is completely impossible to do this. The mistake is to think that the exam grading system could redress this injustice - if you like, this inequality."

His comments echo those of the head of the biggest school exam board, who has already questioned how regional grading could be done in practice.

"If you did it regionally, is it fair that in order to do something for students in a rundown inner-city area comprehensive and just down the road there's a fantastic private school and those students will get bumped up from a B to an A?" Colin Hughes, AQA chief executive, said.

"Is that fair? Is that the right outcome?" 

Prof Coe said that there were already existing inequalities in the exam system in terms of students' access to good home support and excellent teaching.

But these were addressed by encouraging universities to take them into account through their admissions, not through the grading system.

He added: "There are arguments about 'Should we have exams at all?'  

"Sometimes the downsides of a particular way - like exams - look as though they are very convincing and you think, 'We must be able to find a better way.'

"But, for my money, using exams is like democracy - it's the worst possible way, apart from all the other ways.

"When you look in detail at any of those alternatives, they start to fall away in terms of being credible or certainly better."

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